“Hiroshima” by Hideo Sekigawa – The Ultimate Japanese Disaster Movie

In the next, and last, of my posts about movies which I studied for my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, I am writing about Hiroshima (ひろしま) (Hideo Sekigawa, 1953). This is the oldest movie amongst all those that I studied, but it could also be the most influential – at least amongst the Japanese language ones. It seems appropriate therefore to finish off this series of posts writing about this movie.

The summary of Hiroshima on IMDb) is short and to the point…

Brilliant and extremely realistic retelling of the day in Hiroshima that the bomb dropped and following days.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045875/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_4

The film is brutally realistic. It runs as a dramatization rather than a documentary, but it is certainly educational and doesn’t shy away from the issues of atomic weapons and war. I don’t know how widely it was seen back in 1953 when it was released, or subsequently, but I suspect that its approach to the subject (and to portraying disasters) had an impact on many in the Japanese movie-making world (as is also pointed out in the article). Although such influences clearly come from a wide range of places (and I have written before (see Climber’s High and the article itself) about the suffering protagonist, for example), I can imagine that Hiroshima helped to normalise that grim reality of disasters and showing dead bodies, for example, in Japanese disaster movies.

Sadly Hiroshima‘s influence today is probably not as great as it could or should be. I finally managed to get a copy of the DVD via Amazon in Japan, but there has been no attempt to tidy up the original movie, leaving lines and other marks on the screen at times – things that those of us of a certain age are accustomed to from our experiences of watching things at cinemas and on TV as we grew up, but a world apart from the crystal-clear images that people have become used to in a digital (and streaming) world. There are also no subtitles – in either Japanese or any other language. As I watch all programmes with subtitles, I suspect my listening skills have weakened over time, so there were times when I struggled to pick up the dialogue. But it should also be noted, there are many sections with no dialogue at all as the pictures are accompanied by a haunting musical soundtrack.

Despite the issues above, I believe that this movie should be seen by all politicians. It doesn’t even matter whether they can understand Japanese or not. I think the pictures tell a story enough. This isn’t merely about atomic weapons and nuclear war, this is about the grim reality of all wars. As I have written about in my post about the book Hiroshima-75, now, perhaps more than any other time since the 1980s, is when we need to be learning and remembering about what happened in Hiroshima.

There are a few interesting observations that I picked up on watching the movie again (for the purpose of writing this post rather than for studying it for the article). Although certain aspects of the movie clearly use recreations, others appear to be filmed at the time (parts of the movie are set in the years after the attack). From this you can see people walking around the Genbaku dome (A-bomb dome) in a way that is no longer possible due to the fencing around it. You also see the Peace Museum under construction – but also it looks like there are additional buildings between it and the Genbaku dome. You can also see people taking part in what would, these days, be termed as ‘dark tourism’ (in terms of both sightseeing and buying and selling things)

There is no shortage of documentaries and movies about the bombing of Hiroshima as I have touched upon in my post In the Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud: 75 Years since the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Kuroi Ame is still my favourite out of these, but Hiroshima is an amazing piece of work that deserves to have a better DVD/Blu Ray release (especially if the negatives can be tidied up) with subtitles and more special features looking at its influence and how it was made, for example (the current release basically only has one special feature on the disc, but does have a nice booklet with the box itself).

Interestingly, and perhaps due to the time when it was made and limitations of special effects then and despite the text on the cover itself referring to the mushroom cloud, there is little showing the mushroom cloud (see also my post about mushroom clouds) over Hiroshima in the movie. We see a bit of the cloud forming, but the movie follows other aspects of the disaster rather than this powerful, visual symbol of the disaster.

In terms of the revised list of conventions that I developed as part of my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, Hiroshima has 13 out of the 17, which is perhaps lower than I would have expected, but reflects that the movie doesn’t fit in with a more Hollywood-style of disaster movie as, other than ‘dominance of male characters’ the others that are missing are ones that are found more in English-language disaster movies than Japanese ones. Indeed, Hiroshima, with its gritty reality and not worrying about having a happy ending, is probably the archetypal example of a Japanese style disaster movie (and may have helped to create that type).

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